The Buzz

MUSINGS FROM A VOLUNTEER - guest post by John Peterson



For 8 or 9 months of the year, volunteers in the Herb Garden are actually in the Herb Garden—planting seeds, setting out transplants, pruning, thinning, shaping, weeding, harvesting. But in cold weather, our work is indoors, and it usually involves seeds. 


Seed-bearing parts of plants are dried and stored in bags or envelopes until we clean them, separating the seeds from the chaff. The differences in seed structures are fascinating. Some, like the seeds (really fruits) of cilantro and dill, sit on the ends of branches; those are easy. Echinacea seeds resemble tiny hand-rolled cigaret butts hiding deep in the center of the flower. They may shake out easily or we may need to liberate them. The jet black seeds of tulsi (holy basil) are easily distinguished from their chaff. We have no trouble locating seeds of hot peppers, but we need gloves, masks, and frequent breaks to avoid discomfort in our noses and throats. Sometimes it is not the seeds that hurt—it’s our posture bending over the table. How about a higher stool? a lower chair? switching from one to another? standing up?   

There is a set of eight screens in graduated coarseness which we use for some sorting. We do have to experiment and, yes, there is a learning curve. Sometimes the chaff is pulverized, leaving the seeds on top of the screen, and sometimes the larger seeds fall through the screen, leaving the chaff on top. I can only distinguish zinnia seeds by touch—they give a little resistance which the dry sepals do not. Are the seeds viable? We hope so, but we don’t know. I presume when plump echinacea seeds fall out easily that they are viable. When they are small or misshapen, I wonder if they will germinate.   

To be honest, on some days the task feels tedious, and I start thinking about the Greek myth in which Aphrodite punished Psyche by making her sort seeds. I do have a new appreciation for the work that goes into the packets of seeds that we buy, even when those seeds are sorted by machine and not by hand. The other day Sherri opened a packet that had a lot of extraneous stuff in it. I said, “Does this mean we didn’t do a good job on these last year?” She said, “No, they came this way from the supplier.”  Yes!!!         

** John Peterson along with Sherri McCalla (Herb Garden curator), and Barry McCalla (Herb Garden volunteer) will be at Lichterman on Saturday, January 31 from 10am until 2pm for the popular Seed Swap. Admission is free. 

By John Peterson

Posted by sherri mccalla at 11:30 AM

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